Cremation and Alternative Services

Is cremation allowed in Jewish Tradition?

A simple enough question, and I am sure you were hoping for the black and white answer. Unfortunately, it is a very complicated answer. In fact, any discussion around cremation and Judaism is dangerous ground for a Jewish funeral home. It truly is a no-win situation for us to provide any discussion, for fear of either offending the observant community who supports us so much or offending the general community that feels this type of disposition is appropriate. However, I feel it is important to address this very timely topic as broadly as I can.

The bottom line: It is not what observant Jews consider proper, Kavod – respect. Since our Jewish burial process is based on kavod ha’ met – respect/honor of the body, cremation can be considered disrespectful and hence, not allowed in Jewish tradition. The Rabbi of our local Chevra Kaddisha, Rabbi Edward Shapiro, explains it this way. “We were not created in the hour or hour and half it takes to cremate a body, but rather it is a natural process of creation that took nine months. That is what is proper and natural.”

The post-script is: While cremation is not technically “allowed” or “encouraged,” it is understood that cremation is chosen by some of our Denver Jewish community members and those families should be served with the same compassion and sincerity by the Jewish funeral home and their Jewish clergy. There are Rabbis and Cantors of various movements in our Tradition that will officiate at memorial services and celebrations of life where cremation is chosen.

Does Feldman Mortuary cremate?

Yes. We feel it is important to support all the families of our Denver Jewish community void of judgment or critique of their disposition decisions.

However, I feel it is appropriate to discuss, educate and inform our families. Hence, it is our strong recommendation that one does in fact take the necessary time to understand this final decision. We encourage families to use local Rabbis, the Internet, Responsa and Commentary from the various movements to gather the necessary information to make what I feel is vital part of the modernity of our Tradition: an informed choice.

Below are links to articles and discussion about Judaism and cremation.

Conservative Movement:

Cremation in the Jewish Tradition

Reform Movement:

CCAR Responsa

Chabad:

Why does Jewish law forbid cremation? – Readings

Others:

The Great Cremation Debate | Environment | ReligionDispatches
AISH article
AISH article II
JCANA Forum
Cleveland Jewish News > More and more Jews choose cremations
Concerning Cremation
Does Jewish Law Permit Cremation?


Cremation FAQ

What is Cremation?

Cremation is the process of reducing the human body to bone fragments using high heat and flame.  Cremation is not the final disposition of the remains, nor is it a type of funeral service.

Is a casket needed for Cremation?

No, a casket is not required, most states require an alternative container constructed of wood or cardboard, however, in some states no container is required.

Is embalming required prior to cremation?

No.  In fact it is against the law for a funeral home to tell you otherwise.

Can the body be viewed without embalming?

Yes, in fact, not only do we allow, but we strongly encourage immediate family members to briefly view the deceased prior to cremation.

Can the family witness the cremation?

Yes they can; some cremation providers will allow family members to be present when the body is placed in the cremation chamber.  Some religious groups even include this as part of their funeral custom.

Can an urn be brought into a Synagogue?

No, currently, Denver's Rabbis have yet to allow ashes to be present in the synagogue. However, our Chapel will allow the ashes to be displayed during a service but it will always depend on the Rabbi's final decision.  

What can be done with the cremated remains?

While laws vary state by state, for the most part remains can be buried in a cemetery lot or a cremation garden, interred in a columbarium, kept at home or scattered. Our local Rabbinic community strongly suggests a family bury the cremated remains for a number of reasons. The most important; closure. There is both research and personal stories that share how important burial of cremated remains is for the surviving family.

How can I be sure I receive the correct remains?

All reputable cremation providers have developed rigorous sets of operating policies and procedures in order to maximize the level of service and minimize the potential for human error.  Since it is illegal to perform more than one cremation at a time, and the vast majority of crematories can only cremate one body at a time, it is next to impossible to receive the incorrect remains.

How long does the actual cremation take?

It all depends on the weight of the individual.  For an average sized adult, cremation can take two to three hours at a normal operating temperature of between 1,000 and 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

What do the cremated remains look like?

Cremated remains resemble coarse sand and are whitish to light grey in color.  The remains of an average sized adult usually weighs between 7 and 8 pounds.

Are all the cremated remains returned?

With the exception of minute and microscopic particles, which are impossible to remove from the cremation chamber and processing machine, all of the cremated remains are given back to the family.

Do I need an urn?

An urn is not required by law.  However, an urn may be desired if there is to be a memorial service or if the remains are to be interred in a cemetery.  If an urn is not purchased or provided by the family, the cremated remains will be returned in a temporary plastic container.